It's not pretty.
To recap on what we already know: Cambodian workers in the garment trade often face a four-hour daily commute, standing up in the backs of cattle trucks. But the workplace itself is no golden paradise. The factories resemble prisons, with watchtowers, barbed wire and frequently, security details made up from armed police officers.
These officers are often part of the excessive response to peaceful worker protests. One demonstration as part of a campaign to pay a minimum wage in 2014 led to four deaths. Attempts at unionisation are met with intimidation or even arrest.
Conditions in the factories are frankly inhumane. Without air conditioning, they soon become ovens, and work with dangerous, insecurely guarded machinery is the norm. With mandatory overtime, insistence on double shifts and insufficient time for breaks, it's not surprising that there are accidents. Yet managers will insist that these incidents are downplayed or even ignored. Nothing can get in the way of the push for profit, and people are just another cog in the machine.
Here's a quote from one Cambodian worker that sums up the situation:
“I worked from July to September of 2014, during the summer holidays at university. The name of the factory is TaiEasy, located in Krakor district, Pursat province. I worked in the “product safety” department, verifying that the machines were in a good condition, but also doing administrative work. I earned $115 per month, and the company additionally provided us with 5kg of rice.
My schedule at work was from Monday to Saturday from 7am to 11:45am, and from 12:45pm to 4pm. However, except for Saturdays, we were asked to do overtime until 6pm or 9pm, depending on the day. And we would not get paid extra. What I could not understand is why the salary of my Vietnamese or Filipinoe colleagues was higher, even double or triple, than for us Cambodians. Most of the time it was us teaching them how to do their tasks when they came in as newcomers. And apart from the salaries, another difference between us Cambodians and the others were the holidays: Cambodians did not have any, just for the Khmer New Year and other national holidays. The other workers from other nationalities did have a few days of holidays, I can’t say how many days though.
My bosses were Chinese and Filipino. Especially the Chinese did not treat us Cambodians –not so much the others- very well. Even though they could not speak Khmer, they had learned a few pejorative ways to refer to us and to call our attention, always threatening us with getting fired when they thought we were too slow. Not only that but also we were only allowed to use the bathroom twice a day during working hours. I left the job when my summer holidays from university were over, but I still have friends working in the factories and the situation has not improved. “
The whole article by Idair Espinosa is well worth a read. It'll give you an idea as to exactly what fast fashion means to the people who make the cheap clothes we have come to see as normal: exploitation, humiliation and potential injury or even death. Is a cheap top really worth that?